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Pols back hotel workers during Labor Day action

Greater Boston Labor Council rallies support for workers

Avery Bleichfeld
Pols back hotel workers during Labor Day action
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley enjoys a moment with Greater Boston Labor Council treasurer Darlene Lombos. PHOTO: AVERY BLEICHFELD

Labor groups and elected officials gathered Monday at a Labor Day rally outside the Marriott Copley Hotel to protest actions taken against its staff.

The event, organized by the Greater Boston Labor Council, featured state and federal elected officials including Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren as well as Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Each of the five mayoral candidates who are gearing up for the preliminary municipal elections Sept. 14 took a few moments to pitch their campaigns to the assembled crowd.

Speakers at the event focused on the workers at the Marriott Copley Hotel, more than 230 of whom were fired last September in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers found that their severance pay was cut by half or more, and without a recall, the employees who previously worked for the hotel are left to reapply for their old jobs without the seniority they had accrued. They now are calling for a boycott of the hotel and its services.

Elected officials including Annissa Essaibi George, Julia Mejia, Elizabeth Warren, Kim Janey, Ed Markey and Ayanna Pressley during the hotel workers action on Labor Day. PHOTO: AVERY BLEICHFELD

Beatriz Torres worked as a concierge attendant at the hotel for more than 20 years until she was fired last September. She said that despite all the hard work and dedication she put into her job at the Marriott Copley, she was fired when employees most needed work and assistance.

“I expected to be retiring here, then go enjoy my golden years, but now I’m working for half of the salary I used to have at Marriott, and unfortunately, I don’t have another 23 years to invest in a company who will pay me the right thing and give me the right benefits,” Torres said.

Carlos Aramayo, president of Boston’s Local 26, said actions like those taken by the Marriott Copley have been especially troubling for the hospitality workers his union represents, who he said were hit hard by the pandemic. According to Aramayo, 90% of hotel workers lost work.

“Now what do we need? We need an equitable and fair recovery,” Aramayo said. “But hotel owners like Host, who owns the Marriott Copley, they don’t agree with it. They’re greedy, they want to cut our jobs and they want to cut services for the public. They want to cut daily room cleaning. They want to cut in-room dining. They want to eliminate bellmen and people who answer phones in the lobby. Is that an equitable recovery?”

Senator Ed Markey spoke at the event in support of the boycott.

“You cannot beg for your rights, you must fight for your rights,” Markey said. “That is what Local 26 is doing here at the Marriott.”

He drew attention to the contrast between how he said the hotel treats its guests and how it treats its employees.

“The Marriott provides top-of-the-line service to its guests, but it provides bottom of the barrel protections for its workers,” Markey said.

Mayoral candidate Michelle Wu called the hotel’s actions “despicable.”

“The Marriott Copley has a long track record of throwing workers under the bus,” Wu said. “From the construction side, bringing in fly-by-night contractors, out-of-state, unfair wages, no benefits, to today, still refusing to do the right thing [regarding the employees who were fired].”

Wu and some of the other mayoral candidates at the rally emphasized the importance of union membership to allow workers to build a stronger economic foundation for themselves.

Janey, mayoral candidate and acting mayor, said, “We know that these jobs are a path to the middle-class in Boston. We know these jobs provide good wages and good benefits and protections in the workplace. … We are at a crossroads. We cannot go back; we have to go better.”

Candidate John Barros drew on personal experience when discussing what he said is the importance of unions.

“I know first-hand how unions have helped our people climb out of poverty into the middle class,” Barros said. “I have family who came from the Cabo Verde islands to work in hotels. I have family who still work in hotels.”

Candidate Annissa Essaibi George said she thinks union action is an important way to get everyone what they want and need.

“While so many stories are different, much about what we are is the same,” Essaibi George said. “At the core, we want to build happy and healthy lives for ourselves, for our children, for our families, for our communities.”

Candidate Andrea Campbell suggested that as mayor, she would help get workers benefits and protections.

“I refuse to accept that in the city of Boston, we cannot provide every single worker with what they would need,” Campbell said. “Not only dignity and respect, but jobs, a living wage, benefits, good housing, early ed for their kids. I’m going to continue to fight for you because it’s personal for me.”

Speakers at the event also invoked the broader importance of standing up for workers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who worked three part-time jobs when she first came to Boston, including one at the Marriott Copley, said she thinks essential workers need more support.

“We need to do more than clap for essential workers, we need to pay them a $15 minimum wage,” Pressley said.

At the rally, speakers also focused on what they said is a growing threat for gig workers posed by big tech companies like Uber, Lyft and Instacart. Speakers said that these companies want to run their operations without providing proper protections or fair wages to those who work for them.

“We’ve got these corporations from Silicon Valley; they’re coming to Massachusetts, folks, and they want to B.S. all of you,” said Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL–CIO. “They want to run a campaign to dupe you. The laws in Massachusetts are clear: if you’re an employee, you’re entitled to benefits. They want to identify them as independent contractors.”

Beth Griffith, the board chair and executive director of the Boston Independent Drivers Guild, said she became a labor activist because she was tired of feeling exploited by companies like Uber and Lyft. She said that while she expects a big struggle, she has hope.

“We know that this fight won’t be easy,” Griffith said. “We know this is David versus Goliath — workers and consumers versus multi-billion dollar tech companies that believe they can buy the law instead of following the law.”

Darlene Lombos, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council, said that this moment, with struggles like those against the Marriott Copley and the advances of big tech companies, is an important fight for unions and workers.

“This is the fight of our lives, and we will not rest until it is done,” Lombos said. “Because when we fight, we win.”

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